Our Hours Next Week – January 22nd and 23rd

Next week our friends at Studio/E will be using the Reading Room, and so the Library will be closed on Tuesday and Wednesday to the casual walk-in business researcher. However we will be trying something new – we will be open on Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 to 5pm, by appointment. 

Call (651-265-5500) or email (info@jjhill.org) to arrange your appointment time. We’ve moved the public access computers into another space, and there you’ll be able to access our databases and our business reference assistance. 

Keep in mind that we are available for assistance online Mondays – Thursdays, 10-5. Just drop us an email to the info address, or give us a call, or online chat from our website. Email may be the best way of getting to us remotely, as it gives us a chance to spend some time with your question and to respond with documents or links to online sources.

We look forward to hearing from you!

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The Return (to the Hill Library) of ReferenceUSA

The Hill Library recently began a new subscription to the ReferenceUSA database, which provides searchable information on U.S. public and private companies. We’ve used this database in the past, even back when it was on CD (the much-loved American Business Disk), and, before that, in book form (the unloved Minnesota Business Directory). In recent years we’ve been working instead with Dun and Bradstreet and their Million Dollar Database. This past year, however, Dun and Bradstreet sold its distribution rights to Mergent, a well-known and long-time publisher of business information. While Mergent acquired the D&B data, they did not acquire the search interface, and Mergent’s own interface to the D&B data was very problematic. That, coupled with new information and surprising (to us) new capabilities in the ReferenceUSA product, made this the right time for us to move back to ReferenceUSA.

There are two large and separate databases in the Hill Library’s ReferenceUSA product: the U.S Company Database, and the U.S. Consumers/Lifestyles Database. The U.S. Company Database is the product similar to the old Dun and Bradstreet. In both D&B and ReferenceUSA there are about 14 million U.S. companies, and you can create and download lists of companies based on user-defined criteria, such as location, industry classification, and size of company

ReferenceUSA also provides a few very useful search options that D&B doesn’t allow. For instance, the D&B/Mergent product does not allow a radius search, while Reference USA will allow you to specify a location and search for companies within a radius of that location. ReferenceUSA also allows you to search by neighborhoods, such as Longfellow in Minneapolis or Lowertown in Saint Paul, and there is also a very nice map-based search mode, where you can draw polygons on a map and get a list of companies within those areas.

The map-based search mode.

This is a very nice tool, especially for a question we’ve always had trouble with, when you are looking for companies that are on a particular street or avenue. 

The company database has a few other interesting search capabilities, such as Fortune 1000 Companies, Home-based Businesses, Year Established, or companies with Foreign Parents. 
The information provided on companies, while more extensive than what is provided by D&B, runs into some of the same issues that D&B and other company databases face: private companies tend to be difficult, and often impossible, to get detailed information on. While ReferenceUSA does contact companies to get information, it’s probably impossible to keep an extensive company database totally updated, and so, looking at the record for our library, for example, you will at times find executives listed who are no longer with the company, or with incorrect job titles. In my experience with company databases, I have found that you have to be very skeptical of the information provided on company officers. Larger companies tend to be a bit more accurate, it seems, and it’s probably easier for the databases to find this information on larger companies, but for small companies, it’s caveat emptor.  This is still true even though ReferenceUSA identifies some company records as “verified records” – which have gone through “the most stringent compilation process, including phone verification” – and also provides a “Last Updated On” field. Even with a update date of December 2012, the information on the Hill Library is out of date by a couple years.

In my next post I’ll briefly look at the consumers/lifestyles research available from ReferenceUSA. You might be surprised. I was.
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While there are over 28 million companies in the U.S., only a small fraction of these, about 15,000, are publicly traded. The rest are privately-held, which generally makes them much more difficult to research. Privately-held firms do not typically release any financial information. They are not selling stock to the public, and they get less coverage in the press, in part because  they don’t have shareholders anxious to read the latest news about the company. 

But just because the information isn’t generally available, that doesn’t mean that people don’t ask the question. On the contrary. People seem to ask pretty often. And so on Monday the Hill Library added the PrivCo database to our online collection. PrivCo is a fairly new database, and is the first and only provider that focuses on providing business and financial information on major non-publicly-traded companies, which they define as companies with annual revenues of at least $50 to 100 million. PrivCo makes use of a wide variety of sources, including financial analysts and “proprietary data technology,” in tracking information on company financials and revenues, private M&A deals and deal multiples, private firm valuations, venture capital fundings, private equity deals, private and family ownership breakdowns, bankruptcies, restructurings, “and more.” Currently PrivCo covers over 32,000 major private companies, and over 20,000 private market deals.

Not only does PrivCo provide information on Private Companies, it also provides nationwide search capabilities for private market investors, such as angel investor groups, venture capital and private equity firms, searchable information on venture capital funding, mergers, acquisitions, and private equity deals. All in all, PrivCo is a pretty nice package of tools that attempts to address the private company problem, and we look forward to your feedback on the product.


You can see free samples of PrivCo reports at http://www.privco.com/. Or stop by the Hill Library and try it out!

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Death Home

Looking for information on an individual, I notice a few subtle clues online that suggest that he may, in fact, be dead. Vague hints, such as only a trained and experienced researcher will pick up on. Such as a link to a social security death record under his name.
But I want more information. I check the local newspapers for obituaries, but find none. There are plenty of online sources that say they can provide information about a person, but I don’t want to be spending any money on this.
And then I find the Death Home.
That’s not it’s real name, of course. It’s actually a site from the Minnesota State Historical Society, the Minnesota Death Certificates Index. I was struck though, by the poetry of the little button on the upper left corner of the page. “Death Home.” Click there, and it will take you home. That is, back to the home page of the Index.

I think I’ll always remember this as the Death Home site.

Am I among the last to know about this?
Probably. And the source does have its weaknesses. It’s time frame is only from 1908 to 2001, so actually, in my particular project, this does not help. And, really, it provides very little information. Birth date, death date, and mother’s maiden name. That’s about it. But I was pleasantly surprised to find this source online, and it also reminded me of one of my very early web discoveries, some 15 years ago, maybe, the Dead People Server. The Dead People Server focuses mostly on “celebrities” – I see Davy Jones made the cut, so that says something about how often it’s updated, at least, and maybe on how high the bar is set for admittance.
Death Home, though, is not exclusive. It’s a death site for both celebrities and the little people, the commoners.
Like the Grim Reaper, it takes anyone.

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What We’re Reading…

A lot of people are concerned with online privacy issues, especially in light of Google’s recent synthesis of all their separate privacy policies into one single all-encompassing privacy policy. But we came across an article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine about a week ago that reminded us that there is plenty of offline privacy to worry about too.
        The article is called “How Companies Learn Your Secrets,” (written by Charles Duhigg, who has a soon-to-be-published book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business) and it talks about Target’s efforts to change the shopping habits of consumers by timely discernment of when customers might be in the early stages of pregnancy.
When children appear on the scene, the article explains, old shopping habits are disrupted, (to say the least,) and new habits are patched together from the tattered remains of your life. Target has determined that the second trimester is the key time period, (in terms of shopping habits, anyway) and they are eager to Friend you exactly then, with all sorts of topical inducements (coupons), that will lure you into their habit-forming stores exactly when you are most… available. And before any of the other retailers out there have a clue.
To do this, Target turned to a statistician and its massive database of Target customers. If you’ve bought items at Target using a credit card, or a coupon, or called customer service, or opened a Target email, Target apparently takes note, attaching, when possible, a unique identifying code to a customer, and then tracking purchases along with a wide variety of demographic information. I imagine that most huge retailers have similar databases and collect similar information. Using this database, it turns out that Target is able to get a pretty good idea about what’s going on in your life, including areas of your life that some might think of as really none of their business.
This was a fascinating article, well worth a read, and the comments section afterwards is a varied mix, with some alarmed citizens who are unhappy to learn of this sort of market research, and others who see this as Business As Usual, saying that you don’t have to buy what you don’t want to buy. Even if Target has a pretty good idea that you really do want to buy it.
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Best Business Books 2008 (Or, I did not even know I was reading a business book.)

While indulging our end-of-year habit of looking at various “Best of 2008” lists, we figured, considering our trade, that we’d better also take a look at the best business books of 2008.
There are a few lists available, and for the most part, there aren’t any real surprises on any of them. When I say there are no surprises, I don’t mean that in the same way I would say there are no surprises when we hear that Meryl Streep got another Best Actress Oscar nomination — best business books lists just don’t get that kind of attention, and there’s no Best Business Books Golden Globes equivalent that presage the Best Business Books lists and give us all a sneak peek at who might win, so that we’re “surprised” come Oscar night.

Rather, I mean that there’s no surprise a book called When Markets Collide would get the nod for the Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year. I haven’t read it, but with a title like that, it’s already got my vote for best business book of the year. Same with the titles on the shortlist for the prize: The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life. Or Cold Steel: The Multi-Billion-Dollar Battle for a Global Industry. They just sound business-y, you know?

Or alternatively, their authors are the well-known heavy hitters of business-related topics. For example, it also doesn’t surprise me to see Seth Godin’s latest book, Tribes, listed among the best of the year, according to the online business bookseller 800 CEO Read. Or to see BNET invoking the names of Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers) or Thomas Friedman (Hot, Flat and Crowded) on its best-of list. When Strategy+Business magazine includes on its list a book with a name like The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East? This is what I mean by no surprises.

But for my money, I always get a kick out of seeing which entries on these “Best of Business Books” lists I wouldn’t have automatically included in the business category at all. Like, let’s say, a business book written in the Japanese comic form manga. Find out more below the fold…

I think it would count as a surprise to see The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, a believe-it-or-not career guide told in fully illustrated manga on a best-of-business-books list. But when I learn that the book follows the title character from college into his first job, and then details his career advancement by illustrating the six core lessons of finding, keeping and flourishing in satisfying work? Okay — I’ll allow it. And so did 800 CEO Read when it included the book on its list.

Works of fiction also come as surprises in business best-of lists. Yet the list published by Fast Company magazine includes The White Tiger, by Aravind Adinga, noting that a person could read “200 nonfiction books on India, its hypergrowth, and its impact on society and the world, and none will sear images and voices into your brain” the way this novel does.

Another surprise mention inspired the title for this blog post: I had no idea last week when I checked out The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives that I would in fact be reading a business book. But there it is, the winner of the best book prize in 800 CEO Read’s “New Perspectives” category. 

So here are links to the lists in full. Check what might be of interest to you and your business or career, and remember not to judge any of them by their comically-illustrated covers alone.
Financial Times list
Fast Company list
Strategy+Business list
BNET list
800 CEO Read list

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